Museum Ousts Gary Beer For Excess Expenses

By James V. Grimaldi and Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Smithsonian Institution yesterday replaced Gary M. Beer as chief executive of the museum complex's embattled business unit after an inspector general's report found he had abused his institution-issued credit card and billed thousands of dollars in expenditures that were unauthorized or lacked evidence of a business purpose.

Acting Smithsonian Secretary Cristián Samper named Tom Ott, president of Smithsonian Publishing, as the acting chief executive of Smithsonian Business Ventures. Ott, 48, immediately replaces Beer, the founding chief executive of the unit who had announced he would remain on the job until September when his contract ended. The early departure was "by mutual agreement," Samper said. "We wanted to turn that page."

Samper said yesterday he would direct Beer to reimburse the Smithsonian $30,000 for expenses that were deemed "unsupported," or lacking documents to justify them as reasonable business expenses. Samper also said the Smithsonian would reclassify about $65,000 in inadequately substantiated expenses as reportable income, meaning Beer might have to pay additional income taxes.

Beer did not submit vouchers or expense reports as required under Smithsonian policy and instead arranged for his credit card to be paid directly by the Smithsonian, Inspector General A. Sprightley Ryan found in a report released yesterday. He routinely wrote checks to cover personal expenses he charged, though personal use of the card violated Smithsonian policy, the report said.

A fiscal officer working for Beer often authorized Smithsonian payments to the credit card company that exceeded the amount owed. That happened so frequently that Beer's account carried a credit for 36 of the 60 months reviewed by the inspector general, Ryan said.

Beer's attorney, Leslie Kiernan, said in a nine-page letter to the Smithsonian that Beer had done nothing wrong. She blasted the inspector general's 16-month investigation of Beer and the business unit, saying the probe had "devolved into an inquisition" and the final report "falsely and publicly smears Mr. Beer and the institution itself."

"The IG report confirms that I received no outside income or perks, and found nothing illegal or unethical," Beer said in a letter to his staff announcing his early departure.

"This is a case about misplaced records, not misappropriated funds," Kiernan said. "There is no evidence that any of the expenses at issue were incurred for Mr. Beer's personal benefit and all evidence that is now available show that they were incurred during routine business travel, for business dinners and other obvious business purposes."

Marina Ein, a spokeswoman for Kiernan, said Beer disagreed with the Smithsonian's reclassifying certain expenses as income.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), a member of the Smithsonian's governing board, testified during a House Administration Committee oversight hearing that the situation at the business ventures unit "is something where we believe we found gross problems. I would call it a misadventure."

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Robert A. Brady (D-Pa.), agreed with Matsui. "There is a strong sense in Congress that the Smithsonian has veered off course in recent years."

Beer, a former executive of the Sundance Institute, came to the Smithsonian in 1999 shortly after the institution created the separate business unit to run museum shops, theaters, concessions and publications and forge new business ventures. At the time, outside consultants predicted the stores would make twice as much money. But SBV profits fell 14 percent, from $27.9 million in 1999 to $23.9 million in 2006.

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